Published On: Thu, Jun 8th, 2017

Homes in: Liguria

The ‘Italian Riviera’ has long been adored for its beaches, balmy weather and pretty buildings. But the area’s steep, wooded hinterland is a more recent discovery – especially for seekers of great-value property. Fleur Kinson tells you more. 

Only a slender arc on the map, Liguria serves as a bridge between Tuscany and the south of France. It hugs the Mediterranean for about 150 miles between these two gilded destinations, with the steep Maritime Alps snug along the length of its back.

It is this interesting geographical set-up that gives the region its delicious climate. Protected from northerly cold winds by the high mountains, and lapped by a warm sea, Liguria enjoys remarkably mild winters. At the same time, with a cooler elevation at its back and breezes coming in off the sea, it rarely gets too hot in the summer.

No wonder, then, that the region held a great appeal for convalescents and health-seekers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The benign, temperate climate here certainly promotes a sense of well-being. But health tourists weren’t the only fin-de-siècle enthusiasts for Liguria. Artists and intellectuals flocked here too, delighting in the colour and sensuality of the place, relishing its relaxed but elegant and cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Beautiful fisherman town of Portovenere near Cinque Terre, Liguria, Italy

 

Those same qualities characterise the region today. Liguria is chic but peaceful, sophisticated but friendly. Modern-day visitors often note that Liguria is as dazzling as the neighbouring Côte d’Azur across the border in France, but that it has less of the glitzy bustle and air of exclusivity you often sense in the French Riviera. Liguria is a rather more welcoming and easy-going place.

Meanwhile, its buildings are prettier than what you’ll see over the border. Liguria’s sea-plunging hillsides sprout art-nouveau villas, and the region’s towns and villages are a colourful maze of trompe l’oeil paintwork that plays tricks with your eye.

Tranquil wonderland

So much for the coast. But there’s another side of Liguria whose delights have only recently become better known. Behind the gilded beaches and resort-towns, Liguria’s hinterland rises steeply into a tranquil wonderland of wooded slopes, where charming hill villages appear as a swirl of terracotta rooftops around delicate campaniles. Up here in Liguria’s quiet heights, local people grow some of the very best olives in the world and cook up a famously fragrant, delicate cuisine. The air is fresh and the vistas are quite glorious.

What’s more, the property prices are a fraction of what they are down by the sea – something which has enticed many foreign property buyers up into Liguria’s lovely hinterland over the last couple of decades. With a fine choice of beaches just a short drive away, it makes sound financial sense to go a little way inland and spend a lot less.

Liguria has long been a favoured holiday-home destination for wealthy Italian buyers from nearby Milan and Turin, and these buyers have been joined over recent decades by buyers from many other countries – especially northern European nations and Russia. The high desirability of coastal locations in particular has ensured strong property values in these areas. However, Liguria has remained mercifully unspoilt by its saleability.

Sensible legislation has long prevented any over-building or insensitive development. Thus the charms that make people want to buy in this region stay the same. In recent years, things have been rather less fluent in the normally robust Ligurian market because of wobbles in the global economy. Fewer foreign buyers are seeking holiday homes in the areas they once were, and properties are staying on the market for longer than previously. The result of this, of course, is lower asking prices, which makes right now a very good time to buy if you can.

Sea view of Manarola in the Cinque Terre

Anne Nathan of The Italian Property Company explains why the Ligurian market has in recent years “taken a real battering”. She says that Italy’s declared austerity made many Milanese and Torinese – who would traditionally buy in Liguria – think twice about buying anywhere. Then, “as the Ukrainian crisis developed, the Russian currency halved and restrictions were imposed on taking money out of Russia.”

And what else? “Before the Brexit vote,” Anne says, “the British were coming back to Liguria in considerable numbers. But the vote meant that some of my clients dropped out of their contracts, as the exchange rate became so contrary. They are now starting to reconsider, although the exchange rate can still be problematic. We’ll have to wait for the pound to come back.”

So, with fewer buyers and lowered prices, Liguria is even more appealing at the moment. It isn’t the cheapest region of Italy (its coast is too well-known for that), but it does offer some very good value-for-money. There are prices here to suit all sorts of budgets, and as indicated earlier, the cost of homes a few miles inland is especially reasonable.

Large seaside villas with pools might ask €500,000 or more, while a similar property a few miles inland can go for half as much. One-bedroom apartments on the coast can ask €150,000, but in the hinterland hills you might get a detached two-bedroom house for a similar price. Inland restoration projects, meanwhile, start at less than €100,000.

Restorations

Restoring an old property in the Ligurian hills is an especially good prospect at the moment, as there are many lovely old places to choose from and some of them can make a very good investment.

Matteo Scandolera of Liguria Homes says, “Liguria has many period properties in need of restoration. Restored, these can be rented out when you’re not here, but they’re also a great investment for the future in terms of re-sale. Most of my clients are prepared to spend more for a property that’s ready to move into, so if you buy and restore you will certainly have made a profit in a short time.”

Liguria’s coastline can be split into two halves, with regional capital Genoa sitting in the middle. The western half, from Genoa to the French border, was the first part of Liguria to attract tourists, more than a century ago.

There are venerable old resorts here, such as Bordighera, Ospedaletti and San Remo – places loved first by convalescents, then by artists and casino-goers. The western beaches tend to be wide and sandy, and behind them the land rises gently through pretty hills before finally reaching steeper heights. You might like to note that the climate is ever so slightly better on the western coast than on the eastern.

genova skyline detail.

The eastern half of Liguria’s coast, from Genoa to the Tuscan border, has become very fashionable in modern times and is much loved by the yachting set. Chic, expensive spots such as Portofino, the Cinque Terre and Rapallo are here – places often with very little property for sale.

Eastern beaches tend to be small and intimate, frequently pebbly or semi-pebbly. Behind them, the land rises much more suddenly and dramatically than it does in the west, creating particularly arresting backdrops to the beaches. Cliff-bound fishing villages and inaccessibly steep terrain help give the eastern part of Liguria its exclusive air.

Seaside property

Seaside property across the region can be pricy, and often more so in Liguria’s eastern half than in its western. But there are some lesser-known towns and their surrounding areas that come highly recommended for good value-for-money. Imperia is one such town, and Savona another – both in western Liguria and worthy of your investigation. But buyers hoping to make savings should note most importantly the aforementioned benefit of buying somewhere a short distance inland.

Italian holiday-home-hunters almost always want to be as close to the water as possible, and so prices naturally rise the nearer to the sea you are. Most British buyers in Liguria have tended to venture inland over the last 15 years or so – where it’s quieter, much cheaper, and you can still enjoy easy access to the sea. Plus, you’re likely to enjoy wonderful views from on high.

Stick to within ten miles of the sea if you want to maximize holiday rentability and retain all the benefits of Liguria’s coastal micro-climate. If you go too high into the interior, you begin to lose the region’s famously temperate weather. Inland Liguria is a refreshing world away from the region’s bright, excitable seaside.

Tranquil, leafy, and climbing towards magnificent heights, the interior is sprinkled with charming medieval villages full of hospitable people. The air is very fresh up here, the wildlife is enchanting (a night magically winking with summer fireflies remains a fond memory), and the locally-prepared cuisine is refined and delicious. Even high up, there’s still plenty to do and see.

Liguria’s mountain walking trails are abundant and well-organised. Many clear mountain streams have been dammed to create public swimming pools. Meanwhile, the coast is rarely a long drive away, even high up in the mountains. Note that property prices tend to sink in direct proportion to altitude. As for recommended inland areas, in the west you might take a look at the Nervia Valley behind Bordighera – particularly in lesser-known villages like Rocchetta Nervina and Pigna rather than Dolceacqua, which can fill with tourists in the summer.

Imperia, Italy

Then there’s the Imperia area with its very good value-for-money properties. Near here you might try villages such as Borgomaro and Vasia, and the Argentina valley behind Taggia. If you’d like to be not far from the fashionable beaches of Liguria’s eastern half, try the area inland of Chiavari for reasonably-priced homes.

Note that throughout the interior, properties in larger villages with facilities such as bars, restaurants and shops are generally higher priced than homes in smaller places with fewer facilities.

It’s also worth mentioning that inland parts of Liguria offer good holiday rental prospects, although these of course get steadily better the nearer to the sea a property is situated.

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